Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni, who was held hostage for more than three weeks in Afghanistan, has been released, the Afghan Interior Ministry said Thursday. (AP)
Italian hostage Clementina Cantoni was released after an ordeal lasting more than three weeks and without any ransom being paid, the country's Interior Minister said.
"I am pleased to announce this evening that we were able to release Clementina who was taken hostage 24 days ago," Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalali told reporters at a hastily arranged late-night press conference.
"The policy of the Afghan government is not to deal with the hostage-takers. We did not pay any ransom," Jalali said.
Cantoni, 32, who works for the aid group CARE International, was snatched by gunmen on May 16 while driving in downtown Kabul. The abduction sent shockwaves through both the Afghan and foreign communities in the capital.
Afghan authorities said earlier that Cantoni was abducted by a criminal gang rather than by Islamic militants.
She will return home Friday, Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said.
Fini told Italian public television RaiDue late Thursday that Cantoni would spend the night at the Italian embassy and that her parents were about to leave for the Afghan capital.
The entire family will return home Friday, he said.
"Clementina is in good health and is currently under the protection of our diplomatic authorities," a foreign ministry official told AFP speaking on condition of anonymity.
Beatrice Spadacini, a spokeswoman for CARE International in Kabul, told CNN that Cantoni "was treated fairly well."
Spadacini declined to comment when asked if a ransom was paid. "I doubt it," she said. "We wanted her to be released unconditionally."
Italians welcomed Cantoni's liberation with great joy and relief.
The country's President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said in a statement he was overjoyed and deeply relieved. He thanked Afghan authorities "for their precious cooperation that led to Clementina's liberation."
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was in Luxembourg, said he was "pleased and satisfied," Italy's ANSA news agency said.
Kabul earlier accused Rome of meddling in negotiations to free Cantoni after Italian authorities had claimed her release had been delayed by infighting between different Afghan departments.
The Afghan Interior Ministry accused the Italian embassy of establishing contact with the alleged kidnappers without informing Afghan authorities.
Cantoni's father said she had already spoken to members of her family by telephone.
ordeal: a severe or trying experience（严酷的考验）
ransom: money demanded for the return of a captured person（赎金）
infighting : contention among members of the same organization（混战，暗斗）